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Online Psychology Degree Programs in California

In response to heightened awareness around mental health issues among its large and diverse population, California offers one of the best job markets in the U.S. for psychologists. Online psychology degree-holders in California can expect a 12.5% increase in the projected growth of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists from 2016-2026. Licensed psychologists, counselors, therapists, and other professionals earn competitive salaries across the state.

Students interested in pursuing careers in mental health will find some of the nation’s highest-ranked psychology colleges in California. This guide provides useful information about online degrees in the field, licensing requirements, career and salary prospects, internships, fellowships, and professional resources.

How Do Online Psychology Degree Programs in California Work?

California is home to over 440 colleges and universities and has championed access to online learning in recent years. Students will find a wealth of online program options that offer the same high academic standards as campus-based degrees. Due to California’s reputation for quality postsecondary education, employers view both online and traditional on-campus degrees from California schools as equally legitimate.

Some online psychology degrees in California offer accelerated programs, enabling students to move quickly through coursework, while others allow students who have work or personal responsibilities to enroll part-time on a flexible schedule.

While many schools offer the convenience of fully online formats, some degrees incorporate hybrid courses with face-to-face components or rely on cohort learning models, which require online learners to progress through courses as a group. Most schools require in-person residencies, especially at the master’s and doctoral levels.

What Courses Are Part of an Online Psychology Degree Program in California?

While each online psychology degree in California emphasizes different specializations and degree requirements, this list describes some of the most commonly offered undergraduate courses.

  • General Psychology

    General psychology serves as an introduction to the field for students beginning their undergraduate degrees. This prerequisite for most upper-division courses introduces students to the major theoretical paradigms and research methods. Enrollees can explore the roots of psychology in the natural and social sciences, along with subfields like developmental and behavioral psychology or neuroscience.

  • Abnormal Psychology

    Abnormal psychology encompasses the study of all behavior considered to be different from the norm, usually as the outcome of dysfunctional cognitive processes. This behavior is usually socially unacceptable or maladaptive. This undergraduate course covers the etiology, symptoms, and treatment of abnormal behavior. Enrollees learn the criteria used in clinical practice for the classification of mental and behavioral disorders.

  • Clinical Psychology

    This course introduces clinical psychology to undergraduates planning to pursue advanced graduate training. Learners can examine the characteristics of evidence-based clinical practice, principles of psychotherapy, and treatments for psychiatric disorders. Using case studies, students can learn the causes, symptoms, and treatment for common psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.

  • Cognitive Psychology

    This study of cognition at the undergraduate level examines the role of mental processes in human perception, information processing, verbal and nonverbal communication, and reasoning. Students analyze the components of cognitive development, including perception, memory, attention, pattern recognition, and language acquisition. Coursework explores the role of cognitive processes in conceptualization, creativity, imagery, and knowledge representation schemes.

  • Developmental Psychology

    This subset of psychology views human development as a lifelong process that encompasses physiological, social, emotional, and cognitive changes from conception to death. Undergraduate students in this course can chart the ways humans mature, grow, and adapt at different life stages. Coursework highlights the psychosocial impact of race, ethnicity, class, culture, and gender during lifespan development.

Becoming a Psychologist in California

Becoming a licensed psychologist, counselor, or therapist requires advanced training at the master’s or doctoral levels, along with strict adherence to state regulations. Students thinking about earning online psychology degrees in California should investigate the recommended degrees for their professional goals and consider the types of specializations, licensing, and credential requirements they will need.

  • Specialize

    Even as undergraduates, psychology students should learn about in-demand specializations and incorporate the necessary coursework into their plans of study. A school psychologist or industrial-organizational psychologist may enter those fields with a master’s degree, but California requires a doctorate to practice as a clinical licensed psychologist, licensed counselor, or to teach psychology in most colleges and universities.

  • Earn Your Degrees

    Colleges and universities in California offer online degrees in psychology at every level. If you want to explore the field before deciding on a career, consider a two-year online associate degree. A bachelor’s degree is the first step toward a career in psychology as it is the necessary credential for admission into a graduate program. Distance learners enrolled full time can typically complete their bachelor’s degrees within four years.

    Earning an online master’s in psychology in California can expand career prospects and provide a stepping stone to a doctoral program and eventual licensure. Like many states, California requires licensed clinical psychologists or counselors to hold doctorates. While some programs allow students to enter doctoral programs directly with only a bachelor’s degree, most online learners take two years to earn their master’s degrees before moving into doctoral programs for another five or more years of study.

  • Obtain Licensure

    The California Department of Consumer Affairs Board of Psychology oversees the requirements for becoming a licensed psychologist. Applicants must possess a doctorate in psychology, educational psychology, education with a specialization in counseling psychology, or education with a specialization in educational psychology from an accredited school. Licensure requires two years or 3,000 hours of supervised professional experience, including 1,500 hours completed after receiving the doctorate.

    Applicant must also pass two tests: the national examination for professional practice in psychology (EPPP) and the California psychology laws and ethics examination (CPLEE). Licensure candidates cannot take the CPLEE until they complete all supervised hours and pass the EPPP. Licensed psychologists must pay substantial fees for the application, testing, and licensing processes.

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

Other Licenses and Certifications

A bachelor’s in psychology provides a foundation for advanced graduate study, which is necessary for licensing and specialized certificates. You must hold a doctorate and license to practice as a licensed psychologist or licensed professional counselor in California, but a marriage and family therapist only needs a master’s degree and a passing score on the CPLEE. A bachelor’s degree-holder interested in a career as a licensed clinical social worker must complete an accredited master’s in social work program as a prerequisite for licensure.

The LCSW credential requires an accredited master of social work and 3,200 hours of supervised experience. Applicants must complete specific coursework and supervised hours and pass the CPLEE before they can take the Association of Social Work Board exam to receive final approval to practice.

An MFT in California must hold either a master’s or doctoral degree, including coursework in specific areas. They must also complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience. Applicants must pass the CPLEE and the licensed marriage and family therapist exam.

An LPCC must hold a master’s or doctoral degree and complete 3,000 supervised hours of clinical mental health experience in a professional counseling practice. Each candidate must pass the LPCC law and ethics exam, along with the national clinical mental health counselor exam.

Salaries and Job Outlook for Psychologists in California

California employs more psychologists than any other state. Doctoral degree-holders in clinical, counseling, or school psychology can expect the best career prospects with a mean annual salary of $108,350, making California among the top-paying states for these specialties.

Psychologists employed in corporate or government settings can earn significantly higher salaries. Industrial-organizational psychologists in California earn a mean yearly salary of $149,820. As the need for mental health professionals continues to expand, California is projected to see an almost 13% increase in the demand for psychology educators at the postsecondary level to teach the new generation of mental health professionals. Postsecondary psychology teachers in California who hold doctoral degrees can expect to earn a mean salary of $117,990.

California ranks much higher than the national average for annual salaries in all psychology specializations, and the state’s metropolitan areas offer even higher levels of compensation. Licensed professional psychologists employed in Sacramento and San Francisco earn a mean annual income well over $100,000.

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California at a Glance

Population: 39,557,045

Population Growth (2010-2018): 6.18%

Population Growth Rank: 20

Source: United States Census Bureau

Mean Annual SalaryProjected Job Growth (2016-26)
California$114,86013.0%
OregonN/A-5.0%
Nevada$74,060N/A
Arizona$87,6005.0%
Hawaii$94,260N/A
National Average$95,61010.3%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Projections Central

Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologist SalaryGeneral Unemployment RateEducation and Health Services 12-Month Employment Growth
Sacramento$122,6504.0%2.6%
San Francisco$102,1802.9%3.5%
Riverside$96,2604.6%5.7%
San Diego$95,9703.6%2.0%
Fresno$78,4107.3%7.4%

Source: BLS

Psychology Degrees and Careers in California —
Frequently Asked Questions

This section addresses some questions often posed by students interested in earning online psychology degrees in California. Students should always check with their intended schools for the most accurate information.

  • How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychologist in California?

    Generally, a bachelor’s degree requires 120 credits, which a student can typically complete in four years, depending on the delivery format. Most advanced positions in psychology require a graduate degree, so aspiring professionals should expect to take 35-55 credits to earn their master’s degrees, usually graduating in two years. While program length varies depending on internship, dissertation, and other requirements, a doctoral degree requires 90-120 credits and can take more than five years to finish.

  • Are Online Psychology Classes Hard?

    Students planning to earn online psychology degrees in California from accredited institutions should expect the same rigorous academic experience as those in traditional brick-and-mortar settings. While distance learning programs offer a flexible, convenient alternative to campus-based degrees, online students should expect the same level of rigor.

  • What Skills Are Needed to Be a Psychologist?

    A bachelor’s degree can introduce each undergraduate to psychology as a scientific field of inquiry and provide a foundation of core theories, concepts, and principles. Graduate programs can strengthen that knowledge core while providing training in computer literacy, statistical analysis, and research methods.

    Along with developing exceptional interpersonal and communication skills, psychologists must adhere to a strong professional code of ethics and exercise a commitment to social responsibility, especially in clinical practice when working with vulnerable groups and individuals.

  • What Schools Are Best for Psychology in California?

    With so many schools to choose from at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, students trying to identify the best online psychology degrees in California can feel overwhelmed. While many of California’s psychology programs rank among the top in the country, distance learners should choose the degree path that fits best for their particular needs, academic interests, and career goals. Check out the database below for more information.

  • Is a BA or a BS in Psychology Better?

    A BA emphasizes humanities and social sciences, typically requiring foreign language credits. This degree offers the flexibility to take courses across the liberal arts, preparing students for graduate studies in psychology and other fields, including social work, law, and education. A BS requires more math, science, and laboratory courses than the BA. This degree offers a strong foundation for students interested in research-based graduate studies.

Accreditation for Online Psychology Programs in California

Before enrolling, students should ensure their programs are accredited. Accreditation ensures that a higher learning institution has met or exceeded the quality standards set by the government.

There are two main types of accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation is granted by accrediting bodies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Regional accreditation is the more esteemed form of the two and is associated with nonprofit academic institutions. National accreditation, on the other hand, tends to cover for-profit entities or trade schools, such as technical or vocational colleges.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges grants regional accreditation for colleges and universities in California. Students interested in pursuing online psychology degrees in California should look for WASC institutional accreditation as well as field-specific accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA), which accredits doctoral programs. Note that APA does not accredit undergraduate programs.

Psychology Internships and Fellowships in California

Internships and fellowships can help students who are pursuing online psychology degrees in California to gain important experience. In general, internships are short-term, work-based positions that can be paid or unpaid. These opportunities tend to be open to undergraduate students. Fellowships are typically tied to academic work; they include a stipend, can last multiple years, and focus on professional development.

For example, a fellowship can support an independent research project with no work component, or it might provide practical work experience. In the field of psychology, this is the case for doctoral candidates, who must take on fellowships while studying. These experiences count toward the supervised experience requirements needed for licensure.

As the mental healthcare needs of California’s diverse population continue to expand, students seeking internship and fellowship opportunities can find placements in public and private settings. Interns can gain valuable experience in specializations such as mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and family therapy, working in healthcare, social services, and government agencies.

Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital

Based in San Diego, this 149-bed private psychiatric facility is the largest in the area. Programs address chemical dependency, substance abuse, eating disorders, and mental health support for veterans.

HealthView, Inc.

Located in the San Pedro community within Los Angeles, this organization is the largest nonprofit board and care facility for the mentally ill in California. It provides rehabilitative, nursing, and mental healthcare for more than 285 residents.

Oakland Behavioral Health Clinic

This VA clinic provides treatment services for mental health and substance abuse issues, including individual and group therapy. Located in downtown Oakland, the clinic also operates an outreach program for people experiencing homelessness.

Mental Research Institute

Based in Palo Alto, this institute has been a proponent of the interactional model of family therapy since 1959. Its research has been repurposed around the world to solve human problems related to family, school, and business dynamics.

Behavioral Health Center of Excellence

This UC Davis research center was launched in 2014 and currently serves as a national model for innovative neuroscience research. It focuses on the prevention of and early intervention with mental illness. A similar center also opened on the UCLA campus.

Professional Organizations for Psychologists and Mental Health Professionals

As you begin to explore careers in psychology, consider the benefits of student membership in a professional association. Professional associations keep their members updated about licensing changes, professional development, and legislation concerning clinical practice. Distance learners can take advantage of employment listings, information about scholarships and internships, and networking opportunities.

  • California Psychological Association Founded in 1948 to promote professional licensing of psychologists in the state, CPA has expanded its mission over the years to include advocacy on behalf of professional psychologists and sponsorship of legislation related to mental health services. Membership benefits include free consultations on ethical and practice issues and discounts on continuing education, annual conferences, and specialty practice programs.
  • American Psychological Association Widely recognized as the leading organization for psychologists, APA establishes academic and professional standards for the field of psychology and promotes the application of scientific psychological knowledge to enrich health and welfare. The association also administers accreditation for professional education in psychology. APA welcomes student members, offering them access to career services, including a job bank.
  • California Counseling Association Founded in 1967 as the state affiliate of the American Counseling Association, CCA advances the field of counseling and professional development in the broad areas of mental health and education. Students can receive a reduced membership rate giving them access to the annual conference, networking events, professional development programs, and a discussion forum.
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association Since its establishment in 1976, AMHCA has promoted educational and training standards, professional licensure and practice, and professional ethics for clinical mental health counselors. The association provides an annual conference, webinars, and continuing education opportunities. Members can receive discounts on study packages and continuing education, health and liability insurance, and access to employment postings.
  • California Association of School Psychologists Established in 1950, CASP has grown into the largest association for school psychologists in the nation. The association monitors legislation and advocates for California’s school-age children. CASP offers an array of member benefits, including professional development, assistance for licensing renewal, a job bulletin, and discounts for liability insurance.

Scholarships for Online Psychology Degree Programs in California

  • California Psychological Association Foundation Scholarship

    This scholarship provides funding for minority graduate students working toward advanced degrees in psychology who aspire to become licensed psychologists, teachers, administrators, and researchers.

    • Amount Offered: $2,000
    • Scholarship Deadline: November 3
    • Eligibility Requirements: Prospective applicants must be from a recognized ethnic minority group, have graduated from a regionally-accredited undergraduate institution, and have been accepted into a doctoral psychology program. The application includes an essay detailing the student’s career goals and three letters of recommendation.

  • AFP Graduate Student Scholarships

    This program provides 22 annual scholarships for student research. Applications are judged in large part on their research proposals and the context, clarity, research design, and overall importance of the study.

    • Amount Offered: $2,000-$5,000
    • Scholarship Deadline: June 30
    • Eligibility Requirements: To be considered, applicants must complete an online application. They must submit three letters of recommendation, a brief outline of their thesis or dissertation research project, and a CV.

  • Heritage Dissertation Research Award

    The Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology awards six grants for $2,000 each year to help with the costs involved in conducting dissertation research.

    • Amount Offered: $2,000
    • Scholarship Deadline: June 1
    • Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be graduate students in personal or social psychology and must submit a dissertation proposal, a CV, a letter of recommendation, and an explanation of how funds will be used.

  • Outstanding Research Award

    The Society for Personality and Social Psychology offers this award is to its graduate student members. It recognizes outstanding research as judged by student peers and faculty members. In addition to the award, recipients have an opportunity to meet with a mentor of their choice at the annual convention.

    • Amount Offered: $100
    • Scholarship Deadline: Late summer
    • Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be student members of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology at the time of the award and must submit a summary (400 words max) of their psychology-related research.

  • SASP Diversity Scholarship

    This scholarship supports Student Affiliates in School Psychology members from underrepresented cultural backgrounds who aspire to work in psychology and are in the process of earning their master’s or doctoral degrees.

    • Amount Offered: $1,000
    • Scholarship Deadline: April 20
    • Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be advanced master’s, specialist, or doctoral students preparing to complete their internships and enter their third, fourth, or fifth year of graduate training.

  • Benton-Meier Scholarships

    Created for graduate students studying neuropsychology, these scholarships help cover research costs. Applications must be signed by the candidate’s faculty mentor or director of training to verify the information provided.

    • Amount Offered: $2,500
    • Scholarship Deadline: June 1
    • Eligibility Requirements: Candidates must have completed their doctoral candidacies and demonstrate research competence for consideration.

Find Online Psychology Degree Programs in California

Higher education institutions are working to meet the projected need for more psychologists, counselors, and therapists in California over the next decade, meaning that aspiring psychologists in California can choose from many different programs. The following database contains all of the accredited online psychology programs in California. It can help you find the school that best fits your academic and career goals.

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Mental Health Initiatives in California

According to the California Health Care Foundation, 1 in 6 adults in California lives with a mental illness, and 1 in 24 lives with a serious mental illness that interferes with their ability to carry out personal and work activities. Statistics provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicate that California falls below the national rate for delivery of mental health services, with the highest rates of vulnerability among low-income adults and children and in prison populations.

In response to this crisis, initiatives in the public and private sectors have emerged to expand mental health service access across the state for children, adults, and underserved groups such as people experiencing homelessness. The California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), a coalition of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes, has implemented prevention and early intervention programs. Designed to reduce negative outcomes for people challenged by mental illness, the CalMHSA initiative addresses stigma and discrimination reduction, suicide prevention, and student mental health.

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